To many children of the 1970s and 80s, the Pontiac Fiero is something of a tragic figure. Its mid-engine chassis and clean, sporty lines made performance promises that its 2.5L OHV, 92 horsepower “Iron Duke” could never deliver on. Even later models, with their 140 HP, 2.8L V6 engines were disappointments – albeit lesser ones. Despite continuous improvements, the car was only in production for four years, and ultimately became more sought-after as the basis for a number of ill-conceived Faux-rrari kit cars than for what it was … but it didn’t have to be this way.
Across town, Pontiac’s GM stablemate Oldsmobile had something that could have changed the fate of Pontiac’s Fiero – and maybe the Chevrolet Corvette’s, too – and that’s the subject of this first engine swap fantasy file: the Quad 4.
In Part I of this two-parter, we learned about the Fiero’s high-cost conception, and initial stumbling blocks in the form of fires and subsequent piles of melting plastic. But the team behind Fiero never gave up hope, as evidenced by what happened in the second half of its life.
The Pontiac Fiero started out as an innovative sports-car design, got bean-countered into an overweight parts-bin commuter car with embarrassingly public reliability problems, then got a complete redesign in 1988… which turned out to be the year of its demise.
Here’s one of those final Fieros, found in a Colorado car graveyard last year.
Multiple dam failures brought on by prolonged and intense rain in central Michigan saw a record surge of water sent down the Tittabawassee River last night. Following the breach of the Edenville and Sanford dams, water levels peaked at 35 feet in downstream Midland, MI, breaking the previous record by more than a foot.
In the affected area, the dam failures left uprooted trees and lives, unmoored buildings, a lake drained nearly dry, and a catastrophe of the automotive kind.
As I continue my occasional look at cheap, mid-engine sports cars of the Eighties, one enormously popular car is clearly missing. The Fiero was GM’s attempt at producing an efficient, yet potentially fun car on the cheap.
Unfortunately, GM mostly succeeded at producing a platform for awful Lamborghini replicas.
Ah, the Pontiac Fiero. So much potential, but ultimately a disappointment for The General. I see the occasional Fiero during my wrecking-yard wandering, but it takes a special one to inspire me to shoot photos. This screaming yellow ’86 Fiero GT was one, and today’s final-year-of-production ’88 Fiero Formula is another.
The Pontiac Fiero is one of those cars that is forever showing up on lists. A simple on-line search finds that it’s one of the 100 worst cars ever built, one of the ten cars that should be avoided by tall people, one of the worst ever Indy 500 Pace Cars and, because of its poor sales, one of the 10 greatest automotive financial disasters of all time. Other lists, however, rate the little two-seater as one of the best sports cars of the 1980s, call it one of the ten unexpectedly best cars for tall people and even rank it as one of the best choices for future collectability. Oddly enough, the Pontiac Fiero also appeared on my own personal list of potential purchases a few months ago and, despite the fact that I ended up choosing one of its contemporaries, when I recently found a wonderful, low-mileage example at KC Classic Autos in near-by Kansas city, I knew I must see it.
The Fiero was something of a disappointment for GM, to put it mildly, but enough of them were sold that I still see the occasional example in fast-turnover wrecking yards. For some reason, I haven’t photographed any junkyard Fieros for this series before today (though I have photographed an incredibly detailed full-back Fiero tattoo, and Sajeev has written about this 3.8-swapped Fierrari), but this extremely yellow ’86 in Northern California caught my eye a few months back.
My father and I are Pontiac Fiero people, as we have owned nine Fieros in the past ten years (my first car was a 1986 Fiero GT). We are quite mechanically familiar with them as we have done little to major work on all of them. My dad currently has a 1988 Fiero Formula that we did a complete restoration on about five years ago. That car is an absolute blast to drive as the stock engine was modified to make considerably more power. After spending last summer driving that car almost every day I knew that someday I wanted a Fiero like his.
TTAC commentator crabspirits writes:
I stumbled upon your Lemons Z34-fiero article. My brothers both had LQ1 Cutlasses and whoever designed that engine was a sadist. They both blew the headgaskets and were impossible to work on. FYI: we run the SHO-swapped, mid-engine Geo Metro in the 24 Hours of LeMons. I had some good battles against that LQ1 Fiero, some captured on my helmet cam.
Since there are multiple TTAC Hacks on assignment here at the 24 Hours of LeMons, you’re getting into the mix from multiple angles. And, here in the Piston Slap corner of the world, the Cars are the Stars! But some whips simply have too much going on: feats of engineering superiority, a collection of creative/rare parts and a dump truck full of historical irony. That’s right, historical irony…with a touch of revenge!
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